Notting Hill | 1999
The famous blue door in Notting Hill must be one of the most famous British film locations ever to grace the screen. Who could have predicted that?
The team behind Four Weddings and a Funeral follows up that unexpected smash with another Transatlantic romance as mega-movie star Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) falls for mild-mannered English bookseller William Thacker (Hugh Grant).
The title is the setting, though the famously cosmopolitan locale seems to have been ethnically cleansed: this is the whitest Notting Hill you’ll ever see.
During the Fifties, Notting Hill in West London was bedsit-land – cheap, rundown accommodation for immigrants mainly from the West Indies, and became the site of notorious race riots when locals clashed with racist Teddy Boys.
It was the setting for 'issue' movies such as Michael Winner’s 1963 West 11 (named after the areas now-prestigious postcode) and Bryan Forbes' 1962 The L-Shaped Room (abortion, racism, prostitution...) in 1962, before the street market of Portobello Road became a staple of Swinging Sixties movies in films such as The Italian Job (Michael Caine's pad was just off the northern end of the road) and comedy spy thriller Otley. Caine also lived nearby as Cockney womaniser Alfie, and burned-out rockstar Mick Jagger retreated here in Nicolas Roeg-Donald Cammell's landmark Performance at the end of the decade.
The heart of the film is Notting Hill’s Portobello Road street market, in the top ten of London's tourist attractions – a fact you'll appreciate if you visit at the weekend. But that really is the time to see it. On weekdays, locals buy fruit and veg here. Second-hand goods are included on on Friday but on Saturdays the road is packed for the famous antiques market.
Started in the 1860s, it's been busy ever since, becoming – along with Carnaby Street and the King's Road, Chelsea – one of the centres of the Swinging London phenomenon in the 60s. Sometimes on Portobello it feels like the 60s never went away.
But there is no ‘Travel Book Company’ on Portobello Road, the down-at-heel shop owned by William Thacker. The store was Nicholls Antique Arcade, then furniture store Gong, it’s now a gift shop/souvenir store, sensibly called – yes – Notting Hill, 142 Portobello Road (and rather cheekily replicating the film’s typeface). Somewhat misleadingly, the shop-owners have added an additional sign reading 'The Travel Book Shop'.
The real Travel Bookshop, on which William’s establishment was based, was around the corner. This really was called The Travel Bookshop, 13-15 Blenheim Crescent, just off Portobello, but rising costs in the area (ironically bumped up by the success of the film) and the continued rise of online selling meant that the shop closed its doors in 2011. The premises has since reopened as a book store once again.
Coffee Shop, which stood at 303 Westbourne Park Road, was the little – yes, you guessed it – coffee shop, where William gets the coffee and orange juice at the beginning of the film. It’s since closed down. Next door, on the corner of Westbourne Park and Portobello Road, was the empty property outside which he bumps into Anna Scott. It became – a branch of Coffee Republic, and is now Coffeebello.
A few yards away, across Portobello Road, at 280 Westbourne Park Road is William Thacker's flat. The rundown bedsit interior was a studio set and bore no resemblance whatsoever to what actually lay behind the famous blue door, for this was actually home to the screenwriter Richard Curtis.
Rather than the homely mess of a flat which confronted Anna Scott, the converted chapel boasted a courtyard garden, a 1,000-square-foot reception room and a galleried mezzanine. Shortly after filming it was put on the market for £1.3 million, which must make Notting Hill the most expensive (not to say successful) real estate ad ever. Shortly after finding fame, the famous door was removed and auctioned off for charity, to be replaced by a rather anonymous black one. But you’ll be thrilled to know that, yes, at last it has been repainted to reclaim its iconic status.
Saints Tattoo Parlour, 201 Portobello Road, is the store from which the guy who got drunk and now can’t remember why he chose a tattoo reading ‘I love Ken’ emerges, under the opening credits. It’s also the ‘Brighton’ tattoo parlour peeked into by Bella (Lia Williams) in Michael Winner’s film of Helen Zahavi’s Dirty Weekend.
The Coronet Cinema was where William watches Helix, the sci-fi movie short on both horses and hounds, starring Anna Scott. The cinema has closed but the premises has been restored to its original function as a live theatre, oddly named The Print Room, 103 Notting Hill Gate at Hillgate Street, W11.
The scene where he watches a film in swimming goggles was shot in the screening room of BAFTA.
At the other end of the scale, the failed restaurant of William’s friend, Tony (Richard McCabe), is Portfolio, an art store on the corner of Golborne Road and Bevington Road, W10 at the northern reach of Portobello Road market. Previously an art gallery, it also became an eaterie – Brad Dourif’s diner – in a film which took a totally different look at the area, writer Hanif Kureishi’s 1991 directorial debut London Kills Me. Incidentally, it’s right opposite the flat shared by Tim and Mary in Richard Curtis’s 2013 About Time.
91 Lansdowne Road is the home of Bella and Max (Gina McKee and Tim McInnerny), where William surprises everyone with his megastar date at the birthday party, and Anna surprises Bernie (Hugh Bonneville) with the salary from her last acting job.
The private communal gardens, into which Anna and William break at night (“Whoops a daisy!”), is Rosmead Gardens, Rosmead Road, W11. The gate has been slightly remodelled since filming (the arch has gone) and the ivy which prevented any glimpse of the gardens from outside has been removed.
Don't even think about trying to get in – it's a fiercely private garden, and the drop from the fence is nastier than it appears on film. The bench on which Anna and William sit was simply a prop for the film and doesn't remain.
If you really want to visit the serenely peaceful garden, which is much larger than you may imagine, once a year there London hosts an Open Garden Squares Weekend. You'll need to check ahead which gardens are open to the public.
And outside Notting Hill itself, there’s no shortage of London landmarks to seduce the US tourist dollar.
Anna Scott stays at the Ritz Hotel, 150 Piccadilly, W1, an establishment which rarely permits filming inside, but on this occasion gave unprecedented co-operation to the film company, as William passes himself off as a reporter from Horse and Hound.
The site of the Henry James period movie shoot is Kenwood House, Hampstead Lane, NW3, on Hampstead Heath, north London. The Adam mansion, once home to Lord Mansfield, houses the Iveagh Bequest of old master paintings, and, amazingly, entry is free. The house crops up in another Roger Michell movie – again as a period movie set – in Venus, for which Peter O'Toole was Oscar nominated. In Patricia Rozema's 1999 film of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park it appears as ‘Southerton’.
William publicly proposes at Anna Scott's’ press conference, in the Lancaster Room of the Savoy Hotel, 1 Savoy Hill, on the Strand. The Savoy was also featured in The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Long Good Friday, Entrapment and more recently it was the hotel of Nicolas Cage in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
This is rom-com world, so naturally, Anna Scott accepts the proposal. The outdoors wedding reception is held in the beautiful Zen Garden of designer Anouska Hempel’s minimalist boutique hotel, rather pretentiously called The Hempel Collection, 31-35 Craven Hill Gardens, W2 (the garden stands opposite the hotel entrance) in Bayswater.